Category: Interviews

STL Up Late interview: Bobby Jaycox and Eric Christensen

Bobby Jaycox and Eric Christensen are just like you. They get up every morning to grind away at a day job to pay their bills and keep wood on the fire of a regular life. It’s not until after the sun goes down that these two men get together with other notable and talented STL comics(RAFE WILLIAMS!) and produce gold record caliber television with the KMOV talk show, STL Up Late. 

After speaking with We Are Live co-hosts Chris Denman and Travis Terrell last month,  Jaycox and Christensen sat down with me to discuss the show’s intentions, how real life hot topics play on their series, and the value of storing enough energy to chase their comic dreams. What followed was inspirational dialogue that should light a damn fire under every aspiring funny bone specialist with a dream of entertaining. 

Buffa: Tell me about STL Up Late. 

Christensen: I was doing improv at the Improv shop. I had been doing comedy for a long time in Chicago and thought St. Louis needed some of that. People told me STL needed the cool stuff I was doing in Chicago. STL Up Late was a way to show people there is cool stuff here and also follow my passion at the same time. 

Buffa: Why watch STL Up Late over the other mainstream late night talk shows like Fallon and Kimmel?

Jaycox: All those people are career people. When you see us, you see people that are working for no money and putting in long hours in during the week to make something for people to enjoy. I feel like we set a bar pretty high for the stuff we put together. 

Buffa: Comedy is at a high point right now. Do you see it as a means to heal a soul or merely produce a distraction?

Christensen: They’ve always said laughter is the breaking of tension. I definitely think doing comedy is therapeutic in a lot of ways. 

Jaycox: I can imagine a lot of things missing in a society but I can’t imagine comedy not being there. So it’s everybody’s job to keep it on the trajectory of doing new and good things. Some people hit a plateau and think they can’t do anything new. Look at Louis CK, who does a new hour every year. Anything is possible. There’s people who start on YouTube and then are on Netflix. The people who continue to do new things and drive it. 

Christensen: Since the beginning, it’s important to keep the serious things in check. That’s comedy’s job.  

Buffa: Rafe mentioned something on Tuesday’s WAL broadcast about using heavy hitter topics like the election, gay marriage and gun control in his sketches and comedy in a different way. What is your take on using those real life topics?

Jaycox: I definitely think that part of hitting on political stuff is kind of like growing up. It’s not what your age is. It’s how long you’ve been doing stand up. In order to make those points, you have to be like the Beatles and make those first few albums. 

Christensen: You have to earn it. 

Jaycox: Yeah. Bill Burr was at the Fox and he was hitting all those hard topics and even his fans were getting uncomfortable. That’s his job. He’s going to give you laughter and make you think about coming onto my side by the end. 

Christensen: On STL Up Late, we’re never going to attack those points. We don’t look at gay marriage and think we have to make a joke. If there’s something there that is funny, we will do it. 

Jaycox: It’s like putting your finger on the pulse and trying to see if there is anything we could do. Like Rafe did with the finger gun. 

Buffa: If you can get one of them on your show, who would it be? Hilary or Trump?

Christensen: It’s gotta be Trump. 

Jaycox: Trump. There’s too much material. We’ve done stuff with Trump.

Buffa: The We Are Live crew is on STL Up Late this weekend. How did you meet Chris and Travis?

Christensen: They’d asked me a while back to be on and then Rafe was on. Josh McNew(STL Up Late director) shot a lot of their stuff. 

Jaycox: I’d met Chris at Helium when he judged a contest there recently. 

Buffa: What’s the harshest part of producing comedy and chasing this dream? The sacrifices. 

Christensen: Time. 

Jaycox: You have to have a day job. I don’t know anyone just doing comedy. You have to do a day job, have a social life, and do comedy. Trying to fit more time into comedy. 

Buffa: You have to commit energy to it. 

Jaycox: That’s exactly right. I knew I had a show so I had to reserve my energy. You can’t go out late. You have to save energy. 

Buffa: You run into an aspiring young comic. What’s the first thing you tell him?

Jaycox: Don’t listen to anyone. Listen to yourself. Don’t worry about trying to be someone else. It’s hard enough being yourself. Whatever you’re inspired by, do it. 

Christensen: Start creating. Don’t worry about the next step. Put your stuff on paper and start recording. Start making something and it will take off. 

Jaycox: A great quote I heard is “you don’t have to be great to start. You have to start to be great.” Just get out there and start. It’s an immediate fail or pass on stage in front of an audience. If you are more determined than anyone else, you’ll make it. 

Buffa: What’s the pre-show routine?

Christensen: We will run scripts. Dry rehearsal. Block them out. Dress rehearsals are next. I’m writing the moment I wake up until I get to the theater. Focus on the scripts. 

Jaycox: I try to be as present as I can. If I’m thinking about the next thing, that takes a toll. If I’m in the moment, things go well. You can tell when any of us aren’t present. 

In order to make it in comedy, you have to give a shit. Every day. Every time on stage. A message that is re-affirmed when you talk to Jaycox and Christensen about their work. They do it for the love of the game and the hope that the road leads to bigger and better things. 

Watching STL Up Late, you see all the hard work and sacrifice come together on stage. It’s a living breathing thing. See how hard these guys work to create original unfiltered comedy now that you know their story. 

Bobby Jaycox, Eric Christensen, and company are trying to make comedy great again in STL and it’s a goal they don’t take lightly. Be a part of the experience.

We Are Live and Carolla: Good Radio Meets Hard Work

Hard work leads to good things, right?

The old adage is that if you stick your feet in the ground and take a true shot at something, goals can be attained. Or so people said as I was growing up, reading and writing whatever sports and film commentary I could get my hands on. When I started this thing five years ago, I wanted to get my voice out to the masses or the 10-15 people who actually read this blog. A way to calm the noise in the head or the need to impose my will. So when I see a couple hard driving scrappers like Chris Denman and Travis Terrell take an evening radio show and turn it into a date on a stage with Adam Carolla, I salute them.

Denman and Terrell are the epitome of hard work and passion. A little while ago, they wanted to start a podcast and much to their luck and timing, Tim McKernan at Inside STL threw them the evening slot on CBS 920 AM. They didn’t waste their chance and turned it into a show that touches on a number of topics. They can go from Donald Trump blasting to Gas Pump Confessions to MMA to Movies and then take a U-Turn to sports. It’s a truly unique show where nothing is out of bounds. Listeners get a variety and it’s not called 106.5. (more…)

12 Random Questions with Banshee’s Hoon Lee

Cinemax’s hit series, Banshee, is deep into its fourth season and over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had a chance to spin the random question dial with Hoon Lee, who plays the show’s most popular character in Job, the cross-dressing stylistic computer hacking criminal. Job may look like a sidekick to central protagonist Lucas Hood(Antony Starr), but he is a one man wrecking crew. He can break a man down with a wise crack,  hack his computer and dish him a kick to the face or slowly form a death stare.

Instead of engaging Lee in the usual interview where scribes and actors volley routine questions and answers at each other, I went the other direction. I asked him quick random questions. Banshee addicts and normal entertainment junkies can dig these answers.

Buffa:If you weren’t an actor, you’d be….

Hoon Lee: Unemployed.

Buffa: Which is more challenging? Theater or TV/Film?

Lee: Trick question. Completely dependent on the project and the team. Strong material and good people make for short, satisfying days. Weak material and jerks can make an 8 hour day feel like a week in detention.

Buffa: Favorite movie of all time?
Lee: Oh come on!
Buffa: If you can’t get your coffee at _____, you will go insane.
Lee: Partial to Not Just Coffee in Charlotte with a nod to upcoming Hex Coffee. In New York, I like Birch Coffee. In Pittsburgh I liked Zeke’s, Constellation and Espresso a Mano – there was a lot of good coffee in Pittsburgh.
Buffa: Better food, Charlotte or Pittsburgh?
Lee: Charlotte. Good Food on Montford is tough to beat.
Buffa: Favorite episode of Banshee(most proud or likely to watch as a fan)?
Lee: I loved The Truth About Unicorns. It took courage to put that episode out there and let the show be more than it had been. I also really enjoyed the season finale for S1 as it’s one of the few times I got to play with a lot of the rest of the cast.
Buffa: When you are drinking, you are having a ______.
Lee: cookie as well.
Buffa: Best part about playing Job?
Lee: The excitement and support of the fans. They embraced this character in a way I couldn’t have anticipated and it carried me for the entire run of the show. It could have gone a completely different way and made for a rough four seasons.
Buffa: One character on Banshee you won’t want to mess with?
Lee: Hood. Dude fights with everything he’s got.
Buffa: You are on a plane and can go anywhere. Where do you direct the pilot?
Lee: Home.
Buffa: Did you keep anything from the Banshee set? If so, what?
Lee: A few articles of clothing and the back of my set chair. First time I ever had one of those.
Buffa: Star Wars: Fanatic or “what gives”?
Lee: I almost cried when I saw the first trailer.
I’ve talked to Hoon twice now and this different kind of interview is just another reason why the Banshee cast is different from most TV show groups. Every Friday night when the show comes on, they hop on Twitter and interact with fans. I mean, really interact. They care and dedicate themselves to building a bridge between performer and viewer. It’s a real treat. Come back this winter for more random question interviews with celebs, athletes and people down the street. You never know who you may get to know tomorrow. Today, it  was Hoon Lee.
Banshee returns on Cinemax for its fourth and final season in exactly two months. January 29th. You can catch up via Max Go right now. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Banshee’s Adam Targum dishes on the show’s final season

“Season 4 is going to be the most memorable, mind blowing experience ever for Banshee fans.”

Gregory Shummon/Cinemax
Gregory Shummon/Cinemax

All good things must come to an end, especially on television. When the master team behind Cinemax’s Banshee wrapped Season 3 and began prepping Season 4 nearly one year ago, a thought started to lurk inside the group that includes creator/writer/executive producer Jonathan Tropper, director/executive producer O.C. Madsen and writer/executive producer Adam Targum. Was it time to end Banshee? When news broke last month to fans on the internet, there was a mini explosion. Why now? Well, I have some answers.

I had the chance to discuss the show, past and present, with Targum over the phone as he uncoiled in Los Angeles mere days after wrapping production on Season 4 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Dan Buffa-Banshee really started something for Cinemax, sort of like a trailblazer for the cable network.

Adam Targum-It really did what it needed to do for Cinemax, putting it on the map as a scripted drama destination. That’s where television is going, away from network television. They can’t compete, because they are programmed for a broad audience. On Cinemax, we program to the audience that understands us. That’s why we are successful. We write and craft the shows that we want to see. 

Buffa-In the same way that the Wire and Sopranos did for HBO…

Targum-Yes. When Steven Soderbergh was asked why he brought The Knick to Cinemax, he said that any place that will support and put something like Banshee on the air is a place I want to work. 

Buffa-One of the things you do with the show is push the limits of normal storytelling and keeping it fresh. Does Season 4 continue that? 

Targum-I think Season 4 is going to be the best season yet! Season 3, we did our best to create the most action packed, over the top, heart pounding adventure that we possibly could. That was our goal. In the offseason, we realized we were never going to top that and there was no reason to try. In season 4, we took a different approach to the storytelling in trying to maximize these incredible characters. We found the perfect balance between action, character and story. This season is more serialized than ever with each episode fitting very snugly with the narrative. Instead of bringing these different antagonists for Lucas Hood to deal with, we wanted to used the existing characters and turn it all inward. The story lines intersect, thus making a more richer, more thought out story line. 

Buffa-Season 4 is the end. When did you and the rest of the gang know this was it.

Targum-We had a sense that this could be happening really early on. Jonathan, O.C. and I had conversations about what we could do to carry the story forward and while Jonathan was open to a season five, it was very important to him that there was an organic story line and that the characters had a real place to go. He didn’t want to rehash old story lines. We spent several months spitballing the ideas for a Season 5, and at the end of the day, we realized we had done everything we could do with these characters. It was important to honor Jonathan’s original vision in taking these characters as far as we could take them and make sure we were delivering the audience the most fitting conclusion we possibly could.

While it’s bittersweet, this is the perfect time to bring this story to an end. As Jonathan said in that great Grantland piece, there’s nothing more tragic than a show that sticks around too long. We didn’t want people to watch Season 5 and think, “Man, I’ve seen this before. This episode feels like the one from Season 2.” It’s really exciting because of the freedom it gave us in crafting the perfect finale. 

Banshee-2-550x366Buffa-A lot was left on the table at the end of Season 3. Lucas and Kai had that chat that seemed to bury the hatchet between them. People died. Job was kidnapped. What can you tell us about the jumping off point of Season 4? Is there a time jump?

Targum-The best way for me to answer that question is to tell you to watch episode 1 in January of 2016 and see where it goes. Coming out of Season 3, we did lay some significant story pipe to be addressed. We had Lucas walking away from being the sheriff, and it felt different than it did in the past. It felt like it had more finality to it. A truce between Proctor/Hood possibly. Deva’s state of mind. Carrie’s state of mind. Job’s whereabouts? It left a lot of rich opportunities for us to explore. And we address all of those dangling hanging chads when this season starts up. That doesn’t mean people will be happy with the way we address them. That’s the thing about Banshee. Everyone doesn’t like the choices that our characters make. Ultimately, the audience understands why we make them and that is because it is best for the characters. 

The other thing that is really exciting about Season 4 is that within the first five minutes of the first episode, we turn a lot of things on their head. There are surprises and big turns that the audience won’t see coming. That’s the mandate as a whole, and that’s constantly push the envelope of the show. Do things that only Banshee can do. That has to do with how we tell our story. We aren’t precious with our characters, as the first three seasons showed. We do kill characters that audiences love and that’s not to enrage our viewers. Sometimes, we need catalysts that drive our characters in different directions. As I always say to real life people have sex. They kill each other. They are cruel to each other. There is incest and trucks do blow up. As much as our set pieces are heightened at times, the thing that brings it back to reality is that the characters stories are very grounded. These people are struggling with regret, lost love and that makes it relatable. 

Buffa-There has to be consequences for the characters on this show and Siobhan’s death was proof of that.

Targum-It was a very difficult decision for a number of reasons. First, we love Trieste(Kelly Dunn) and she is a very important part of the family. Also, we knew this was the final hope Lucas Hood had at salvation and a chance for love. Ultimately, we decided that Lucas Hood doesn’t deserve to have those things. As painful as it was for me to write it, watch it get shot and see it air, it wasn’t something haphazardly done. This was the best move to drive Hood forward in his narrative. The fact that fans mourned her like she was a real person is a testament to the people who work on this show, most notably Trieste, the writing team and directing team. In season 4, they will see why we made that decision and why it’s best for the show.

Buffa-Each season seems to build on the last. 

Targum-They do. I mean, we wrapped Season 3 in mid September and by the end of September, Jonathan and I were sitting in a restaurant talking about Season 4. We took time in talking about each individual character before we started plotting. We knew when we got into the writer’s room, in November, both of us knew the beginning, middle and end of each of these characters. Season 4, for all intents and purposes, could be an eight hour long movie. 

1280x720-nccBuffa-How important is Antony Starr to the production? He seems to eat, sleep and bleed Lucas Hood.

Targum-He truly is, but we have a lot of people like that on this show. There’s no question. Ant is the #1. He’s never about vanity. He doesn’t care how he looks on screen. It’s always about “what would Lucas Hood do?” Antony has incredible story instinct and in Season 4, he took a very hands on approach with us in making sure that the narrative was as tightly woven as we needed it to be. I will say though, that Ivana and Ulrich are also big parts of that process. Ulrich will not just give us notes on his scenes but on the episodes as a whole. We have a cast that really cares about the show.

There are new faces this season in Eliza Dushku, Ana Aayora, Jennifer Landon and Fred Weller. They immediately fit the bit and were committed to the project. There’s not a weak link this season. Having such versatile actors allows us to push the envelope even further. That made it especially hard to wrap up, knowing this kind of group may not come together again. 

Buffa-The move from Charlotte, North Carolina to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania must of been a little rough.

Targum-It was a culture shock in a lot of different ways. In the end, we found a good balance of the old and the new. There are things that will look different, and we explain very effectively why they do. It will look like a fresh show, but also feel like Banshee. In a pragmatic sense, we had to build new sets and bring in 75% of a brand new crew. What we found was that the new Pittsburgh crew came in with a lot of enthusiasm. A lot of the crew were fans of the show and went out of their way to get hired onto the set.

I walked around on set, feeling this energy from these 200 people who were fans of the show now working to make it new. When we wrapped the show and speeches were being made, there were a lot of tears and melancholy but also a huge sense of pride in what we had made. We screened the first episode and they were blown away, saying that this was the Banshee they always wanted to make.

Buffa-For most of these actors, it’s like burying a character you’ve grown attached to. 

Targum-It’s immersive. We all live away from home for months shooting this show and there are a lot of long stressful days. I joined the series in Season 3, and Jonathan and Greg immediately gave me the opportunity to put my voice on the show. In Season 4, O.C. and I were running the day to day operations, working with Jonathan, and it helped take the show to another level. Season 4 is where Banshee matures. It feels like a more sophisticated show. And that’s a testament to everyone who works on the show. From the craft services to the #1 person on the call sheet. It’s truly magical. I wish January was tomorrow.

Buffa-It just gives me more time to tell people to watch the show.

Targum-Banshee is a word of mouth show. People walk up to me and have no idea what it is and I tell them it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen on TV and they say whatever. When they come back and say, “oh my god that’s unlike anything I’ve seen on television today,” I say, now you know, so go tell a friend.

Buffa-I recently told someone they should go make friends with a neighbor they don’t like if that neighbor has Cinemax. 

Targum-(laughs)Yes. The truth of the matter is that Cinemax is very affordable. Anytime people tell they don’t have it or can’t afford it, I tell them call your cable provider because the extra 6 or 7 extra dollars is well worth it. Especially now with Cinemax putting an emphasis on scripted drama. They are becoming a top notch destination for top rate drama.

Buffa-One of the things I am most looking forward to is more of the Bunker brothers, played by Tom Pelphrey and Chris Coy. The end of Season 3 really started something there.

Targum-Yes it did. Pelphrey has brought an incredible amount of heart and humanity to Kurt Bunker, the neo Nazi, which I will say is not an easy thing to do. When we came up with characters for season 3, what an interesting notion to have a reformed hate mongering neo nazi who has given up the hate and ideology but still has the exterior signs on his body. What better place for him to come to than Banshee. Tom is unique talent, and has so much range and soul. That’s where we came up with the idea of his brother, played by Coy.

I’ve known Chris for 6 or 7 years. I cast him in a small film called Rogue River, a little horror film we shot in Oregon in -12 degree weather. Chris refused to get warm throughout the shoot because he knew the character didn’t need to get warm.  I knew he was the real deal right there. He’s a true method actor who immerses himself in the role. We really advance that story line of the two brothers in this Neo-Nazi brotherhood. We explore the backstory of these two brothers. How Kurt was recruited by the brotherhood and how he brought his brother Calvin into it later on, leaving him with tremendous guilt. We throw real conflict between these two and from beginning to end, it’s explosive.

Buffa-I can’t stop thinking about Pelphrey’s scene in the finale in the basement with Brock Lotus(Matt Servitto). That’s my favorite scene from Banshee, all time.

Targum-That scene Jonathan had written as an audition scene for Kurt Bunker. It grew and finessed so it could fit into the story line. Jonathan wrote this monologue that really embodied what we were looking for in Bunker and Pelphrey did it and was incredible. As we were moving forward in Season 3, that scene came up and it was a perfect moment for us to put it out there. During his three minute monologue in episode 305(Tribal), Tom showed such range that we decided to take that other scene and adapt it. We shot that pretty late. Tom, wrapping the belt around his hand, which was something he did on his own, blew us away in that first take with his level of emotion and intensity. Matt Servitto came over to me afterwards and said in the beginning of the scene he wasn’t acting but simply trying to calm Tom down. It was such a powerful performance. I remember watching the crew react to the scene and seeing how visceral it was, knowing it was going to be one of our best scenes. We only did 3 or 4 takes because it was so intense. 

What’s most important about that scene is the relationship being built between Bunker and Brock. It’s Brock becoming a father figure for Kurt, who never had a real father. 

Buffa-I remember telling someone these are the scenes that separate Banshee from other shows and people’s perception of the show from the outside. 

Targum-I’m happy to hear that because I will tell you, there is a lot more of those type of scenes in Season 4. It was very important to the entire team that we found more of those moments where the actors could dive deep into these characters. This season, there is a scene around 8 minutes long that is one of the most powerful scenes we have shot. It will be a show stopper in Season 4 because when you have characters opening themselves up, it gives viewers a window into who they really are that a fist fight or gun fight can’t really do. That’s a testament to the work Greg, Jonathan, David, and O.C. did in Season 1. Since then, it’s evolved. In Season 4, we found the perfect balance in putting the viewers in these characters minds. 

In the end, Jonathan, O.C. and I make television that we want to watch. That’s what separates it from the rest.

Buffa-You can tell when there’s passion and when there’s just effort.

Targum-You can. It shows. I was a fan of the show before I came on. The people who worked on the crew this season were big fans. When we handed out scripts, we had to use extra security. You don’t want to spoil the surprise. It is fun to see the fans speculate online and while 99 percent of it isn’t true, it’s always nice to know we are going to surprise the audience because they have a different expectation. 

Buffa-The last thing I wanted to ask about was Lucas and Carrie, the lost soul couple at the heart of the show. One thing on people’s minds is the idea of them coming back together in this final season. What do you have in store for them this time around?

Targum-Anything is possible.They are always going to be at the forefront of the fiber of Banshee. Their complicated relationship and past was such an intricate part of the pilot that it will always play a part in the story. They share a daughter together in Deva. We spent a lot of time servicing those two characters. They love and care about each other deeply, but the external world doesn’t care about that. We do spend quite a bit of time this season exploring their relationship and come to a definitive conclusion on what happens between them.

Buffa-Shooting Banshee has to be a roller coaster in itself. What are your best memories from making Banshee? Any definitive moments?

Targum-So many of them. The making of episode 305, Tribal, last season was the most intense experience of my career. We spent 8 or 9 days inside the Cadi shooting that episode with O.C. Madsen and a good part of our cast. There were 3,000 squibs and thousands more. We were all there, in it, and covered in debris. It was hot and muggy. No air conditioning. It was oppressive. Those hardships are up on the screen and I couldn’t have been any prouder of that episode. It has signature character moments. It’s the end of Siobhan. The moment where Brock stands up to Lucas. We made Chayton into this monster.

Season 4 was special because I got to spend so much time collaborating with O.C., who is a true visionary. He was there from day 1 and brought a different level of character to the show. Jonathan Tropper, who has become a close friend, directed an episode in Season 4. It was satisfying seeing him translate his words to the screen and make all the decisions.  It was also incredibly hard this last week. The last week of production was challenging for us. We had to say goodbye to the actors. Every time we did, the crew would gather around, and we were all so connected. It was a special moment, and on Friday night, we wrapped the final part. Lots of hugs. Tears. Throughout, it was an overwhelming sense of pride. 

It was important for us to honor the audience. When they walk away from season 4, they feel like we did them justice and we did the show justice. I’d love for them to feel a little sad because there will be no more new episodes, but I think they will be satisfied with what we have done.

Buffa-So now, you guys go into post-production?

Targum-From the moment we start shooting, the post-production team and editors start on the assembly. Half of the episodes have already gone through director cuts, producer cuts and gotten notes from the network. Sound is mixed. Things are cut together. Now the intense post-production begins. We also shot origins this year, and they focused heavily on Sugar Bates, played by Frankie Faison. Matty Rauch(aka Clay Burton), got to write and direct some of the origins. He gives 100% and it was gratifying to give him the room to explore the other creative needs he has. 

Buffa-If you had to pump fans up with one line about Season 4, what would it be?

Targum-Whatever expectations you have, we are going to exceed them. We are going to shock, surprise and take the fans on an emotional roller coaster ride. I truly believe this will be the most memorable and mind blowing season yet. We are going out with a bang!

In the make believe business, everybody is a creator. The producer creates the possibility. The writer creates the reality and world the characters live in. The director frames those characters in that world. The actors make them come alive. Adam Targum’s effect on Banshee in Season 3 was seen in nearly every episode, whether it was the Burton-Nola fight or the Tribal shootout. He’s got a wicked mind that extends to an original form of violence, action and power as well. The whiff you got of his talents in Season 3 comes full circle in Season 4, along with Madsen, Tropper and the cast.

Instead of crying about the inevitable end, think of the way a show like Banshee, which blows originality out of the water on a weekly basis, will go out. Think of the spectacle. Forget Game of Thrones. Winter is coming folks. It’s name is Banshee and it arrives in January. Consider this the official tease.

Jonathan Tropper: The mind behind Cinemax’s Banshee

troppIn March, I talked to writer/creator/executive producer Jonathan Tropper about Cinemax’s Banshee. Here is the conversation as Season 4 preps for launch.

Banshee’s third season finale brought fans to their knees again with the death of another central character in Gordon Hopewell(played so well by Rus Blackwell), the capture of a fan favorite in Job(Hoon Lee) and ended with Proctor(Ulrich Thomsen) and Hood(Antony Starr) chatting no longer like rivals but possible partners in crime. Another hour that reminded us that the show is never letting up or slowing down. Co-creator and executive producer Jonathan Tropper spoke with me over the phone about the finale, unveiling Hood’s background, and how Season 4 will be completely different than what you expect it to be. Another chat between two guys who love Banshee.

Dan Buffa-How does the weekly anticipation for a new episode feel on the creator’s end?

Jonathan Tropper-Once it’s done shooting and on TV, it’s a piece of a cake for me. I’m halfway through season 4’s script. Season 3 can take care of itself at this point.

DB-Being the co-creator of these rich characters, how hard is it to ultimately plot their demise, like we saw with long time residents, Siobhan Kelly, and in the finale, Gordon Hopewell? 

When we aired episode 5(Tribal, where Trieste Kelley Dunn’s Siobhan is killed off), even though I planned it and looked over the script while seeing the early cuts, I haven’t let myself really watch the end of the episode until after it aired. It was upsetting. I love Trieste and the character. You love to keep everyone around. However, we made a commitment when we started the show that there has to be really severe consequences for what Lucas and Carrie have done. We don’t want to be the show where things get hairy for a little while and then everything is put behind them. Lucas has done some bad shit and so has Carrie. You don’t get to escape. The consequences don’t stop coming. 

DB-A lot of shows are complacent and resist making these dramatic changes to the show. Banshee goes full speed ahead. You are fearless.

JT-Our attitude always was, “We were damn lucky to get on the air and we were lucky to find our viewership, but the goal really is we treat each season like a brand new show. We try very hard to not make the same story twice or the exact same 10 episodes we just made without flushing stuff about the show that people really like. 

DB-One of the the highlights for me of “All of Us Pay Eventually” was diving back into Lucas’ past and connecting the dots between his army activities and his specialized skill set exploits? How long has this history dose been in the works?

JT-It’s interesting. We definitely try to create the sense of these characters’ past with the Welcome to Banshee website, anywhere from 15 years ago to 10 years ago. The idea is that you have come into the end of a very long story. Both (David, co-creator)Schlickler and I along with Greg Yaitanes are big Star Wars fans, so you are coming in at Episode 4. We didn’t have it all so carefully worked when we did our first season, because you never expect to get the chance. Once we got on the air, we realized we can go back and flesh out his past. A big idea when we were coming into Season 2 was “What if Lucas Hood wasn’t the first time he became someone else?” That’s when it occurred to us that he may have had another life before he even met Carrie.

DB-Lucas is pretty good at shedding identities and moving forward, unlike his adversaries Kai and Chayton, who know exactly who they are. 

JT-At 18, he’s in the army. Then he is in covert ops. He’s never actually been a real adult. Now, at the age of 40, he doesn’t have any idea who he is, which makes him a very complicated character. 

DB-That makes it great TV. Who wants a regular guy at the center of this kind of show.

JT-His tortured soul is spilling out over the entire town and torturing everyone else. 

DB-When I think of Lucas Hood, I remember this great line from a Showtime series called Brotherhood, where a man compared his gangster brother to a tornado because of the damage he inflicts on those around him.

JT-That’s a great line. Like Brock says, everything he touches turns to blood. 

DB-Being the creator and co-producer of the show, does every script that we see on screen have your fingerprints, in some way, on it?

JT-I plan the whole season with the writers. We outline all the episodes together. After the writer do a draft, I read it and note it. Adam Targum reads it first and it comes to me. I make a final pass and tend to rewrite certain dialogue. Being a bit of a control freak, I have a very specific way I hear these characters in my head. The writers obviously write a lot of great stuff that stays in there. Then there are certain instances where I know Job wouldn’t say something in this particular way, so I end up putting my spin on it. The final script goes past my desk, which is common for all shows.

DB-The characters are your babies, so there is a sense of ownership there, so it’s only right to step in when needed.

JT-Sometimes it may not even be fair, and it just sounds wrong to me. It doesn’t mean it would sound on TV, but you lose a certain objectivity at some point. You have to make sure it all sounds the way you created it in the beginning. My job is keeping it consistent.

DB-The finale serves up a dual sided revenge/rescue action extravaganza with Hood/Hopefull raiding Camp Genoa and Proctor taking down Frazier with Hector. How exciting is it to create and write action scenes for the stunt crew to bring to life?

JT-We love doing it. We sit in the writers room and imagine how it’s going to play out. We write them out scene by scene. Then we find the location and then we rewrite it to fit the location. When Marcus and his team get there, they are very creative and while respecting the story points, they present certain sequences and very often they add a lot to it. 

DB-Banshee’s action is second to none sir. I know you’ve said that you take a lot of inspiration from the old school action films that play in the middle of the night on cable, and I recognize a lot of that.

JT-We are just really determined. Any time we pay tribute to something, we’ll pay tribute to it, but we are really determined to not be derivative except in the best possible way. We want to pay tribute to everything from 80’s action to Tarantino, but at the same time we want it be unique to us. 

DB-The clash between Carrie and Stowe brought back memories of the Olek battle. A constant on Banshee are these signature all out brawls that feature men and women beating the crap out of each other. You don’t see that anyone else on TV.

JT-We don’t even think about it. We make our female characters every bit as dangerous as our male characters, so there really is no reason they shouldn’t fight each other. They are just as deadly. 

DB-That’s another way Banshee raises the bar. I watch way too much TV and most of the shows stay grounded and don’t explore anything that involves a certain risk. 

JT-Greg and I came from other gigs, so the philosophy that came about was, “We’d rather fail spectacularly than have a dull success.” I’d rather shoot for it and fail than play it safe and have a Season 3 that feels just like Season 2. 

DB-There are elements from other shows, but with Banshee, it’s that “HOLY SHIT” factor that keeps getting pushed up. 

JT-We don’t necessarily try to top ourselves. We just don’t want to get complacent.

DB-The abduction/extraction of Job at the end sets up a room full of possibilities for Season 4 but it puts our favorite wise cracking computer hacker in a horrible position. Captured and nowhere near a computer.

JT-The biggest problem is the guy they need to help find Job is in fact Job. He has always been the brains of the operation. How do you even begin to find him without his resources? I don’t really want to get into Season 4 because what we have planned is so surprising but this doesn’t play out like you would expect.

DB-The last scene of the episode didn’t full lay out but hinted at a possible Proctor-Hood alliance? Is that a wrong way to look at that conversation? Two men who may be more useful to each other than they are sparring against each other?

JT-Certainly now that Hood isn’t the sheriff, He and Proctor wouldn’t be enemies so we will definitely see that relationship head in a different direction. 

DB-Banshee doesn’t work like most shows, where there is a true good guy and bad guy. There are shades of gray involved so a possible Hood-Proctor alliance shouldn’t surprise the hardcore fans of the show.

JT-We’ve always been careful that our villains are never fully villains and our heroes are never fully heroes. Everyone has a certain level of humanity to them and sympathetic in their own way. No one is really good or bad. They are alpha males pursuing their own agendas. Hood and Proctor’s relationship will continue to evolve and change. 

Watching Antony Starr work is a weekly pleasure. How happy are you with the actor’s portrayal of your central character?

JT-It’s fantastic. The truth is when we wrote Lucas Hood four years ago, he was imagined as a different character than the way Antony plays him. He was imagined as a lot more verbose, smart ass, overtalking things and being this brash conversationalist. Then Antony came in and brought this gravity to it and this twinkle in his eye to where he gets it but he doesn’t have to talk about it as much. We then started writing more towards the way Antony played him. He’s become a very different character than we first envisioned but it’s hard to to remember that even because by the first three episodes, we were already writing him differently due to the way Ant brought him to life. Now I can’t imagine him any other way. 

DB-It’s amazing work. Starr does a lot without saying much. Most actors need that dialogue to properly build a character.

JT-Ant created such a sense of burden in the way Lucas handles everything and the weight that Lucas carries the guilt and the pain. When he did that, it changed the way we wrote the character and the show itself. He raised the stakes, like this wasn’t just an action show, it’s a guy who in tremendous pain and that angst ended up spreading out to the whole world of Banshee. That all came from the way Antony built the character. 

DB-You see that back in the first season with the pilot. That internal struggle of Lucas.

JT-We were always a character driven show. We try to not let that get lost in the action. That’s how we sold it originally to HBO before Cinemax had original programming. We told them it was a character driven show with a slightly preposterous premise. When we went to Cinemax, we amped up the action but we always try to be a character driven show.  

Banshee addicts, you can trust Tropper with your Friday nights and know that the show will never get lazy and always push the envelope. With these creators, you have a group that is determined to blow you away every single week. They go big or they go home. Tropper and Yaitanes are fanboys of old school cinematic action just like it’s audience, so it creates a trust between makers and receivers that something special is coming every week. As the real Lucas Hood said back in the pilot, “You can always reheat a steak but it’s never quite the same.” In a way, that’s Banshee. Always evolving but keeping the soul intact, thanks to creators like Jonathan Tropper.

Season 4 premieres in January, 2016. The entire third season of Banshee is available on Cinemax On Demand or Max Go.

(Photo Credit-Gregory Shummon/Cinemax)

Henry Rollins: The fearless performer with tenacity

Henry Rollins is a one of a kind. A fearless performer of many stages, Rollins just likes to work. He’s done it all.Here’s how it all started.

Rollins, a music fanatic, was scooping ice cream in 1981 when he went to see his favorite band, Black Flag, play a show. After singing a few songs with the band on stage, he was called in to audition for the lead singer spot a short time later. He got the gig and a whirlwind life experience hasn’t stopped since. After playing in that band and many others, Rollins took acting gigs in movies such as The Chase, Bad Boys II and in recent years, Sons of Anarchy. Throughout it all, Rollins has found his true calling. Spoken Word tours. You may have seen him ride through town at The Pageant in the Loop.

What are spoken word tours? Rollins gets on the stage, wraps the microphone chord around his hand like a fighter wraps his hand in gauze, and unleashes a rant on the audience. Politics, music, travel, experiences of all kind and reflection are passed out like mere conversation. An intimate experience. I’ve seen Rollins four times and felt the need to reach out for an interview as he sets up for a European tour in 2016.

You joined Black Flag in 1981 in that memorable audition in NY but your Spoken Word tours are where I feel you really show audiences your true voice. When did you find your voice? As a kid, teenager or somewhere else along the line?

Henry Rollins-I just have one voice. With the music or whatever, it’s just me. I don’t know what else to tell you. I do think that with age and experience, I am able to bring things to the talking shows that is hopefully worthwhile.

You said once that you don’t have talent but instead have tenacity, focus and discipline. Can you elaborate on that? I found it quite honestly one of the most honest things I’ve ever heard.

Rollins-I have never thought of talent. I only think of the objective. Realizing it. Getting the work done. Getting the idea together and then putting in the time. This is the same for music, acting, writing, whatever. You see, as best as you can, what the ‘it’ is and go. I don’t understand talent. I understand a lot of work to get something done. That’s all this stuff has ever been—a lot of work. I am not trying to make it sound like it’s drudgery but it is about time spent. You work on a book and realize that two years from now, you will still be working on this book. If you can handle that, then perhaps you can get something done. Having talent, I have no idea what that means. I have no idea if I have any.

You’ve traveled the world and taken photos and met all kinds of people. What have been some of your memorable experiences on the road?

Rollins-Not to broad-brush it but a lot of the time, you meet people all over the world who live a very, very tough existence. Every day is a miles of walking for water, etc. Things are done manually. Life is lived one minute at a time. There is no thought of the future. There is now and maybe the next day. There isn’t “when I’m 65, I’ll . . . “ When you meet people who live this way, it is an eye opener. When you meet people whose whole lives are spent in food and water insecurity and they are some of the kindest and most generous, it has made me have to re-think what the species is capable of.

One of the things you have constantly said throughout the years is “Book it and I’m there.” Is that your strength? The ability to show up, keep your promise and deliver a show to people who spend their money to come see you?

Rollins-I think you will find almost any performer type values all that. They do want to show up and do a great show and they do understand that the audience is most of, if not the only reason they get to do all this cool stuff. The audience has proven themselves by showing up. The rest sits squarely on your shoulders. I would rather chop a finger off than betray that trust. A performer owes the audience everything. They showed up. They have trusted you with time they will never get back. Anything less than 110% is not good to go. It’s simple. You never phone it in and you always hit it as hard as you can. If you can’t, then just quit.

What keeps you going these years? Most voices would just feel okay staying in a radio booth and doing podcasts yet you continue to travel and do shows. What drives you?

Rollins-I don’t like sitting around. I don’t like environments that are stable, fixed, safe and predictable. When I am off the road, I live in a nice house. It’s cool but it’s boring. It just sits there while the rest of the world is outside. That’s where I want to be most of the time.

You’ve just wrapped the North American part of your tour and are heading to the UK, right? Any differences in the audiences in the states and the ones abroad?

Rollins-The 2016 European dates are the start of the tour, which will go on and off until the end of 2016. European audiences are usually exceedingly polite, very sharp and listen intently. I don’t know what I would do differently there besides stay off topics that are so inside America, that some members of the audience might feel left out. I can’t really see much difference besides perhaps the elevated politeness.

Lastly, any advice you want to dish out to the hard working scrappy creative souls who don’t want to chain themselves to the 9 to 5 life? You broke out of that quite well. What advice would you give someone who’s 20 years old and working in an ice cream shop or dead end job?

Rollins-If you have absolutely no fear of failure and are ready to get it done or die trying, then you might get somewhere. Anything less than that, stay with the deadend job. If you’re really going to do anything that breaks out, you won’t bother asking for advice.

What makes Henry Rollins special is his versatility and the ability to transcend what a performance really means. His tours aren’t comedy shows or concerts. They are more confessional than humorous. He gets on a stage and tells the audience how it is outside. He once called himself an “Americanist” because he survived America and its torments. What keeps Henry sane is his work, whether it’s on a radio show in Los Angeles or at a place in Germany. His show keep him on the edge, where he needs to be. While most do it for the money and the relevance, my belief is Henry just does it because he hates the quiet that a house brings.

The next time Rollins rolls through town, go see him. You will laugh with him, feel challenged by his words and feel empowered all at once. He’s one of my heroes because he will say what hits his minds and elaborate on it instead of retreating behind a punch line. Rollins deserves your respect and time.

nov 8 2008 005